Introduction

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He was not of an age, but for all time! –Ben Jonson

William Shakespeare was probably born in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1564 (although the precise date is unknown), and was the oldest surviving child of John and Mary Shakespeare. John was a glove and wool merchant who rose through local offices, eventually becoming bailiff (or mayor) of Stratford; Mary was from the prominent Arden family. As a young boy, Shakespeare most likely attended the King’s New School of Stratford, where he would have been taught Latin and Greek grammars and been trained to read, translate, orate, and act classical Latin texts by authors including Seneca, Cicero, Horace, Terence, Virgil, and Ovid. It was in school that young William would have performed for his first audiences, composed of his schoolmaster and schoolmates.

In 1582, at the age of 18, Shakespeare married 26-year old Anne Hathaway, who was already pregnant with their daughter Susanna. In early 1585, William and Anne had twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died in 1596. Susanna later married a Stratford doctor, John Hall; Judith married Thomas Quiney, a Stratford vintner. The family line died out with Susanna and John’s daughter, Elizabeth, leaving no direct descendants of Shakespeare.

By 1592, Shakespeare had established himself in London, although there is little record of his early days there. By 1593, he had published his poem Venus and Adonis and, in 1594, printed editions of his plays began to appear. For the next 20 years, Shakespeare worked in London as an actor, a writer, and, eventually, a partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men). By 1597, he had become wealthy enough to purchase real estate in Stratford, including the second-largest house in the town, known as New Place.

Shakespeare continued writing until 1613. Many scholars consider The Tempest (1610) the last play that he wrote on his own. In these last years of writing, Shakespeare frequently collaborated with a younger writer, John Fletcher, with whom he wrote The Two Noble Kinsmen.

William Shakespeare died in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1616.

Creating Shakespeare begins by exploring how Shakespeare–contrary to Ben Jonson’s famous phrase—was both of an age and for all time. The exhibition examines how he created his works, drawing inspiration from the books, manuscripts, maps, objects, and people he encountered in his daily life. Creating Shakespeare also illuminates Shakespeare’s 400-year afterlife, surveying the writers, printers, actors, artists, musicians, audiences, readers, and scholars who have published, performed, adapted, appropriated, transfigured, and collected him, creating him anew for each successive generation.

Creating Shakespeare will be on display at the Newberry Library from September 23 to December 31, 2016.

Introduction